Art of Fighting 2 isn't much more than a basic update on the original, however. The extra touches are few and far between, although it's a welcome addition to be able to select any of the characters for immediate combat. Naturally, the addition of a dozen extra fighters throws the already jumbled plot line into further turmoil, though its effect on the gameplay really isn't an issue. Indeed, the considerably more surreal pidgin translations are a source of continued glee - particularly the fairly homophobic exchanges between the androgynous King and the rest of the cast. "Oh come on, I don't smell that bad! Looking forward to the clenches, honey!" Lovely.
Other than its inclusion for completion's sake, there's not much to say about this first sequel other than it is very hard. The first game certainly isn't easy, but the selectable difficulty level seems to make little difference in Art of Fighting 2 - to the point at which it gets skipped over in infuriation for the first or third game.
Art of Fighting 3, however, is a massive update on the previous two with an almost completely new ensemble of selectable fighters. This is also the one that really lives up to the Westernised title of Art of Fighting. The huge sprites are beautifully animated, with enough pencil miles to circle the globe a dozen times. The manga-esque cut-scenes are equally well illustrated and add a level of characterisation the previous games failed to realise.
The combat system undergoes a significant renovation, with a host of proximity and energy-level-linked options available to the combatants. Rushing at opponents, unbalancing them, ground attacks, pursuit attacks and a last-ditch adrenaline rush when your power gauge drops below a quarter all add up to a superbly dynamic tournament. Topped off with an "ultimate knockout", which allows players to win in just one bout if they flatten the opponent using a special attack when both characters have low energy - the range of wildly varied moves makes for a wonderfully entertaining and highly replayable game.
While it's great to have the first two of the series present for historical reference, Art of Fighting 3 is a superb waypoint between retro and contemporary gaming that fits perfectly with the PS2's twilight years.
As a compilation, there are a few gaps that, if filled, would really have cemented the Anthology's place in the fighting game charts. Returning to the game selection menu is a small chore (accessible only while a match is actually in progress) and the overall "bare bones" construction is a little close to the surface to feel like a well-groomed compilation. A little historical information, arcade flyers, cabinet pictures, character bios, credits and so forth would have padded out the Anthology nicely and poured a little more gravy over the succulent meat of the games, but the retail price undeniably makes up for any shortcomings in additional content.
Weighing in at little over the price of an XBLA download (about a tenner from the right shops), Art of Fighting Anthology is a rare bargain - especially from new. This alone makes the Anthology highly desirable, and if it provides nothing more than a weekend's worth of revivalist violence then you'll have got your money's worth.